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Dems Panic, Slime Nader!

by Susan Davis

It’s Tuesday, Nov. 1 , and there’s only a week to go til the presidential election. All signs are that the Gore people are in full, flat-out panic mode, doing everything possible to frighten Nader voters into thinking that a vote for Ralph is a vote for W. Bush. In fact, they’re going further — they’re even arguing that a vote for Nader is a vote for fascism!

Last night was Halloween, but that doesn’t explain why so many creepies have crawled out of the woodwork. Only terror explains it. This morning my email mailbox was full of emergency exhortations to “do the right thing”. They were passed on by teacher’s unions, educator coalitions, fellow communications professors and even supposed greens.

For openers, a graduate student forwarded me a “petition” calling on Ralph Nader to pull out of the campaign. After some slimy warm-ups about what a great guy Nader is and how much he has contributed to American society, the petitioner delivers the sucker punch, urging Nader to “do what is right for the American people in this crucial week before the 2000 presidential election.” He should withdraw in the name of democracy so the mono-party can continue unchallenged. “Please do not distort the American political process by splitting the liberal vote and allowing the conservative right to steal this election. Please do not waste the good will, respect and admiration the American people have for you by the throwing the 2000 American presidential election to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.”

What do I think of this, the student asks? I say it sounds like a Gore & Co. press release. I send her back a copy of an excellent article Robert McChesney just wrote for the Madison, Wisconsin Capitol Times. Bob argues that the person who is losing the election for Gore is Gore, and that those who are going to shift their votes from Nader to Gore have already decided to do so. The election was Gore’s to lose, and he’s losing it, while Nader is picking up non-voters, and dissatisfied Republicans and Libertarians. But the Democrats could win by swinging their support behind Nader, a man people trust and believe in.

Why would withdrawing be “the right thing for democracy” in a corporately dominated political system? I ask the student. Anyway, did Gore do the right thing for democracy when he refused to debate Nader and had him thrown out of the halls — twice? (He certainly gave Nader a bounce in the polls.) The student replies evasively that she “admires my conviction.” Just to be prickly, I forward Bob’s piece to all the graduate students where I teach, and three write back with warm thanks.

I move down my in-box list. It’s getting worse. My fellow faculty are howling paeans to the lesser evil. The head of a local higher-ed coalition forwards me a poisonous piece from that great mind of the twentieth century, Gloria Steinem, titled “Ten Reasons Why I’m Not Voting for Ralph Nader.” The sender attaches a chipper comment: “Once again, Gloria’s right on target!” (Gloria Steinem? On target? That rich, connected, Clinton-pandering, New York fashion plate, featured in Vogue and Vanity Fair, on political target?) Steinem’s ten reasons include (I’m editing):

10. He is in it for the matching funds, and trying to start a viable third party. Terrible idea.

9. “He was able to take all those perfect progressive positions of the past because he never had to build an electoral coalition, earn a majority vote, or otherwise submit to democracy.” Translation: he’s an idealist. Why is submission to a phony democracy such a comfy position for you, Gloria?

8. He’s condemned Gore for voting against abortion while a Tennessee senator, and “this actually dissuades others from changing their minds and joining us. ” Hunh? Steinem thinks abortion is the key issue, *and* she thinks Nader should not condemn someone who’s consistently opposed abortion rights. Oooookayeee, as the thirteen-year olds say, but to me, this is pure prejudice. Nader can’t have a reasonable position on abortion because….he’s Ralph Nader. See below.

7.”Nader is rightly obsessed with economic and corporate control, yet he belittles the movements against a deeper form of control–control of reproduction, and the most intimate parts of our lives. …He… ridicules the use of the word “patriarchy,” as if it were somehow more less important than the World Trade Organization. ” Hey, maybe the guy’s got a valid point: peoples’ basic economic control over their everyday lives is where we have to start — and that earning an equal, living wage and health benefits is a necessary step toward women having real control over their own lives and bodies. Somehow Steinem thinks reproductive rights are “deeper” (more radical?) than broadly-distributed economic equality, but weren’t feminsts supposed to drop this either-or thinking a long time ago? Have you ever noticed how older, white women with money can get abortions, and younger, poor, darker and rural women have a lot harder time even finding a clinic? I think the word “patriarchy” is overused, and the way it is usually tossed around doesn’t explain much. Her insistence on reproductive rights as central contradicts Steinem’s point 6 above, about wanting to get anti-abortion people “on our side.” This is thinking? This is a reason to be against Nader?

6. “The issues of corporate control can only be addressed by voting for candidates who will pass campaign-funding restrictions, and conducting grassroots boycotts and consumer campaigns against sweatshops, not by voting for one man who will never become President.” Dead wrong. Campaign funding restrictions will NEVER be addressed by the men who CAN become president, because they’re too deeply owned by the mega-contributors. If this were a remote possibility, Gore would not have kicked Nader out of the debates, and Gore-Bush would have been forced to address the issue. Campaign reform will have to be produced by a popular movement, which takes us back up to point 10, and Gloria’s horror of same.

5. She swears that the no-difference argument makes no sense. “There is a far greater gulf between Bush and Gore than between Nixon and Kennedy and what did that mean to history?” Hunh? I don’t know, Gloria, –what *did* that mean for history? Both men where president, and both did major damage. Did you dig Vietnam, Kennedy’s sell-out of King, and the Cuban missile crisis? I didn’t.

4. “Nader asked Winona LaDuke, an important Native American leader, to support and run with him, despite his possible contribution to the victory of George W. Bush, a man who has stated that “state law is supreme when it comes to Indians,” ….. She doesn’t think Winona La Duke made her own decision to run? She shouldn’t run either, because she might lose, too? She thinks the Clinton administration has a good record on Indian sovereignty and the environment? I’d love to hear No-Nukes Winona answer that one.

3. “If I were to run for President in the same symbolic way, I hope my friends and colleagues would have the good sense to vote against me, too, ….” I hope so too. You can count on me. But of course, if *you* ran, it’d be purely symbolic and not a practical, political step, right?

2. The Supreme Court issue.. “Gore is the opposite [from Bush on every important judicial issue]. Gore has made clear that his appointments would uphold our hard-won progress in those areas, and he has outlined advances in each one.” This is everybody’s big worry, and I just don’t buy it. Gore voted for Scalia and didn’t prevent Thomas’s confirmation. On the vague possibility that Gore would dare nominate someone decent, and she/he could be confirmed, we’re supposed to dump the possibility of getting a real progressive third party off the ground? If Gore had denounced Janet Reno’s and Clinton’s horrid records on civil liberties, immigration and privacy rights, you might convince me.

1. “The art of behaving ethically is behaving as if everything we do matters. If we want Gore and not Bush in the White House, we have to vote for Gore and not Bush out of respect for the vote and self-respect. ” If everything we do matters, then why do we want a sleazeball like Gorei n the White House? If everything we do matter, then I have to vote for Nader to try to build a third party movement in this country. If not now, when? As for self-respect, it’s a matter of looking at myself in the mirror in the morning. Which I can’t do if I vote for someone owned by the military and the oil companies, while kidding myself that he’s an honest politician.

Steinem goes on to add: “Perhaps there’s a reason why Nader’s rallies seem so white, middle class, and disproportionately male.” Think of it! White, middle-class and male! Then think of Steinem’s NOW feminism —white, middle class and female! Perhaps there’s a reason why feminism is seen by the general public as a largely privileged and irrelevant non-movement — all those years of cozying with the Clintonites. People like Steinem are terrified of not being at the table and in the game. Nader hasn’t played insider politics, but somehow he’s gotten a hell of a lot done. His consumer movement is an actual movement.

Time for a third cup of coffee. Steinem’s “Ten Reasons” were straight-up slime and it was even worse that my own union rep recirculated them to me later in the morning. (Well, he’s sort of my rep, but it’s not like we have a contract or anything.) I wrote back and told him I thought it was a disgusting thing for him to send around. Then another communications professor — supposedly a deep thinker on political theory — sent Steinem around again, this time in answer to McChesney. What would Jurgen Habermas say? But what was coming was even creepier.

Next I opened a message headed “Long Night Coming” that appeared to be from the John Muir Sierrans listserve. The JMSers are a reform faction of the Sierra Club, largely composed of Nader supporters. In it, some one named “Doug” (Doug Korthof) unfolded dark meditations. Doug wrote:

“I feel as lifeless as in the lead up to the election of 1968, knowing that the forces of evil are coming at you, but not being able to do anything about it. A long night is coming, apparently, unless we do something about it, instead, Nader continues vicious attacks on Gore.

“The triumph of the reactionaries will be forever blamed, in my mind, on Nader more than the inept Gore.

“If only Nader took the stronger, harder path of attacking Bush, instead of wreaking havoc on Gore, and killing the few scattered alliances trying to protect the environment.

“Nader is doing the work of the Republican national committee, and doing it well…..”

What a nice warm thought, supposedly coming from the John Muir Sierrans, the opposition within the Sierra Club. It’s Gore we want, and Gore we must have, and he’s losing because Ralph Nader is vicious. And here I thought Ralph Nader, running as a Green, was viciously attacking the corporate control of the political system, including both major candidates, and especially on their environmental records.

Dougie goes on to say “Nader has split the left.” (Here I thought he was pulling it together and breathing life into it, but I guess Doug thinks that Clinton-Gore are a “left” of some sort — the left hand of darkness?) The Naderites “have weakened any opposition to the Oil Lobby taking power. This will be a fearsome thing, if it occurs; the terrible abuses in Nigeria and Myanmar may come home, you may see them here. The Oil people have destroyed our electric railroads, and now they have bought up the patents for the new batteries which make electric cars possible. ” All Ralph Nader’s future fault, and he’s being so unfair to that outspoken defender of the people of Nigeria against Sun Oil, Al Gore.

Doug calls Nader “venal” for trying to get 5 per cent of the vote. This will lead directly to the “elimination of the Electric Vehicle program, to the curtailing of abortion rights, to the continued pollution of poor communities by refineries in Wilmington.”

“Nader will be the one who takes the blame, in the long night which is apparently inevitable, now.”

Wow. Some optimistic, clear-thinking people in the John Muir Sierrans, no? I emailed Doug back and asked if his position represented the position of all the JMSers, since his message came via that listserve. If it did, I said, I wanted to know, because I’d want to be off the list. He replied — “You’re off!” What?

I’m not too swift about this email technology. I assumed that since the message came to me *via* the JMS listserve that that meant it came *from* the JMS listserve. Further, I thought that since Dougie Korthof told me I was “off”, that that meant he was somehow monitoring the JMS listserve, and had taken me off it. That pissed me off. “Are you the listserve operator?” I asked. “Did you really take me off the list? And what’s your relationship to John Muir Sierrans?” I asked. He refused to answer those questions, but wrote back to tell me that even though there’s diversity of opinion in the Sierra Club, dark fascism is for sure coming to the US, especially if people vote for Nader. Carl Pope told him so, and it is incumbent on all us Sierrans to line up behind Carl’s position. Can’t you just hear the bootheels clicking?

Thus Doug Korthof let me, and perhaps others, think he was representing a JMS position with his posting. He should have told me that I’d simply misunderstood and this was his own private list, even though it was embedded in a JMS email frame. But then he’d have to explain why he got my address from the JM Sierrans. After exchanging a few nasty remarks with him about censorship — what did he mean I was “off the list” for asking a political question?, and he replied to the effect that “if you think this kind of censorship is bad, there’s worse coming after Nader gives the election to Bush” — it finally dawned on me that Doug was using John Muir Sierrans listserve addresses to send around his own anti-Nader scare letters. And then looked back through my mailbox and found that a few days earlier, he’d forwarded a false letter Nader being a direct threat to the lives of the U’wa people of Colombia. The real threats, of course, are Occidental Petroleum, in which Al Gore has a million dollars in stock, and the Clinton Administration’s support for the Colombian military. This disinformation letter, the Rainforest Action Network and the Village Voice say, originated with the Gore campaign and was circulated over the internet by a Sierra Club member. Oh, Dougie, Dougie.

David Orr of the Sierra Club later told me that Korthof “is not on the real JMS listserve.” Orr believes Korthof has created his own version of a JMS list. Smooth, and it looks plausible. So, is Doug a Gore-warrior doing dirty tricks by making a message appear to come from JMS? Or did his own loose brainwaves tell him to scoop up JMS email addresses and freelance some diatribes, preposterous as they are? Or should I take a class in how to decode email headers? Who knows? In any case, Doug’s a nasty little blister.

But he is right — fascism is definitely coming to the US if “greens” so-called can use the electronic stationery of a legitimate organization to try to scare people out of voting for a third party while they still have a legal right to do so, and all the while claiming their reasoning is “green.” Sieg Heil, Doug, and have a nice day.

Bush may well win this election, in large part because Gore has been unable to convince anyone that he’s trustworthy. He’s been trying to out Republican the Republicans and he’s behaved scandalously in refusing to debate Nader. Plus he looks awful — like some inflatable rubber doll with a wooden head. It reminds me of the old Malvina Reynolds song about watching Nixon on TV: “They say it’s his face, but I just can’t believe it. It looks like a mask that you buy at the store……” On the other hand, Bush looks wooden, too, like a shifty-eyed Charlie McCarthy. I guess it depends who has the better mask.

If Gore loses it’s not because Ralph Nader has “viciously attacked him,” or criticized his anti-abortion stances, or refused to cave, but because people can see Gore’s dishonest. They know the same about Bush, too, but maybe they want a change in authoritarian phonies. How anybody can think the Democrats have any credibility in their calls for campaign finance reform, personal freedom, and an open political system after the last eight years is beyond me — and apparently beyond a lot of others. Not unexpectedly, Gore’s liberal toadies are scraping the bottom of their empty barrel, looking for moral authority to attack Nader with in a last minute panic. And the moral authority just isn’t there. They’re down to slime.

I’m not especially worried about the differences between Gore and Bush — I think that we are in for a very bad time no matter who wins. But what has driven this home to me are the screaming anti-Nader emails whizzing around on this very bad email day. They show how ferociously the fraudulent logic of the one-party system has reproduced itself in the brains of people who think they are “on the left”. Do you think I should unsubscribe? CP

 

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